Endless summer reading

The Deal From Hell

James O’Shea


James O’Shea is considered a hero by many frontline newspaper people for sacrificing himself rather than gut the Los Angeles Times’ staff at the direction of his corporate overlords. In The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, O’Shea uses his own personal experience and his reporting chops (which are considerable) to come to a conclusion shared by this paper’s CEO: The failure of newspapers has less to do with the internet than it does with the quarterly profits required of big business. O’Shea uses his own career as the template from which to understand the decline of the dailies, and he reveals the inner workings of the Tribune-Times merger (it was actually more of a takeover), the downsizing, and the purchase of the companies by Sam Zell—which pushed them into bankruptcy. If you want to know what’s really going on with the print news business, this book is a good start.

Bright’s Passage

Josh Ritter

The Dial Press

If you’ve ever heard songs like “The Temptation of Adam” or “Harrisburg,” you already know that alt-folk singer-songwriter Josh Ritter knows how to tell a story. In his first novel, Bright’s Passage, Ritter tells the story of World War I vet Henry Bright of West Virginia, who picked up an “angel” in the trenches that communicates with him by talking through his horse. Henry’s wife has just died in childbirth, and his villainous father-in-law and two brothers-in-law are coming after him to kill him and take his newborn son. The narrative of Henry’s escape is complicated by a wildfire and flashbacks to his wartime experiences, for a haunting and emotion-driven tale of a man who just wants to live in quiet safety while he raises his son. Ritter may not be quite as good a novelist as he is a musician, but it’s a damn close call; this is an extremely auspicious beginning.

How the Hippies Saved Physics

David Kaiser

W. W. Norton & Company

Physics in the Cold War years had become pretty darned boring, all about bombs, spaceships and doing calculations—lots and lots of calculations. But just as the hippies opened up music, politics, literature and, uh, sex, they also did wonders for science by freeing their minds. David Kaiser’s How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival is all about the mind-expanding effects on science of the Berkeley-based Fundamental Fysiks Group and the new territory they opened for inquiry. Quantum entanglement (what Albert Einstein called “the spooky effect”), the many-worlds theory and other “far out” ideas were explored in a scientific community that had room for hot tubs, ESP and even a little LSD. Kaiser’s style is engaging, which makes this history of the time when physics left the short-sleeved white shirts, skinny ties and plastic pocket protectors behind one of the best science books of the year.